“Providing quantifiable examples of your successes will enable an employer to understand where your strengths lie…”
Graduate schemes are a popular, yet highly competitive way of getting onto the career ladder. How can you make sure that your application stands out from the pile for all the right reasons? Here are our top tips for writing an application for a graduate scheme:
Show, don’t tell
At the beginning of your career, it’s easy to fall into the cliché trap. Of course, you want a potential employer to know that you’re hardworking and a team player, but these words are so overused that they’re pretty meaningless on an application.
The way around this is SHOWING the recruiter that you have these skills, rather than just TELLING them. Anyone can write “I’m a team player”, but it will sound much more credible if you can come up with an example of when you’ve contributed to a team and made a positive impact.
Providing quantifiable examples of your successes will enable an employer to understand where your strengths lie and how you can add value to their business. Putting numbers to your achievements gives concrete evidence of what you’ve done and enables you to boast without sounding boastful.
For example, instead of saying that you increased sales in your part-time job, say that you increased sales by 50%. Instead of saying you can meet deadlines, say that you handed in your dissertation three weeks ahead of schedule and still rated in the top 10% results-wise.
Be a STAR!
The STAR format is a recognised way of presenting evidence of your suitability for a role. It’s particularly useful when answering competency-based questions, which require you to provide specific examples of when you’ve used a particular skill. Using this structured approach prevents you from giving woolly, generic answers that don’t showcase your true abilities.
S – SITUATION. In one sentence, describe the challenge that needed to be overcome.
T – TASK. Briefly explain what you needed to do to resolve the problem.
A – ACTION. This should be the most detailed section, where you describe exactly what actions you took to achieve the desired outcome. Keep this section focused on both the challenge and the skill that you are trying to demonstrate.
R – RESULT. Conclude with one or two sentences explaining the positive outcomes of your actions and, as above, quantify this wherever possible.
S: I am responsible for the performance of my team and noted a dip in KPI statistics.
T: I needed to identify the reason for underperformance and take rapid action to remedy it.
A: I identified a member of the team who was underperforming and made him aware of the high standards I expect. I also ensured that he understood his role and responsibilities. I discussed performance during one-to-ones, appraisals and 6-monthly reviews and provided constructive feedback and advice. I also identified where further training was needed. I set specific, measurable tasks and guided him through them and also wrote a performance action plan.
R: By following disciplinary procedures, I was able to turn around his performance. Both the team member in question and the team as a whole achieved all our KPIs for the rest of the year, with the individual I supported delivering a 12% increase in productivity.
Choose examples from a range of sources
As a graduate, you probably have various experience that you can draw on, to ensure that the examples you provide are as strong as possible. Don’t feel obliged to constrain yourself to examples from paid work or industry internships; if you have a stronger example from your academic studies, voluntary work or involvement in an extracurricular club, for example, feel free to use it.
Go back to basics
It can’t be said enough times but check your work before you send it off! Listen to the advice of the spell check and grammar check, then read through a couple of times yourself to meticulously check for errors. Finally give it to someone else for one last check, as a fresh pair of eyes is more likely to spot mistakes than someone who’s been working on it for hours.
Good luck with your application!